Wartile (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (w/soundtrack, £18.98 , soundtrack £3.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Wartile is, on paper, a great idea. Aesthetically, it is, at the very least, interesting. It takes clear direction, and some good planning, to so accurately replicate the feel of a tabletop diorama. And very pretty ones at that. But I’m going to let you in on a little tabletop secret: Beyond the cost and craftsmanship required to make said pretty dioramas, the main reason they aren’t used a whole bunch is because it’s a pain in the ass to move models around them. The prettier they are, the harder this is to do.

Similarly to trees, counting the rings reveals the experience of an enemy.

That this, also, is faithfully recreated is the first of Wartile’s problems. In fact… A lot of what feels unfun about Wartile is that very faithfulness to its inspiration. Let’s unpack that a little. Anyone remember Hero Quest? Or Space Crusade? Ahh, the heady days of proto-GMing, having a nice, dramatic blurb to read out, and then… Moving figures around the board to obtain simple objectives, like “Kill the Genestealer” or “Find Room X in Y turns.” Ahh, the grand stories that te- Ah. Yes. Was a bit basic, wasn’t it? And without the enemy cards to let you know precisely what bad news those Androids were, they were basically plastic white skullmen.

And so it is, to an extent, with Wartile. It’s taking from a rich tapestry of norse myth and creatures, but it can be a little hard to appreciate because, apart from some card abilities, they’re basically “Enemy, whack automatically [preferably from higher ground] until dead.” It tries to spice it up, even early on. AMBUSH! Yup. Yup. Two more enemies. Cool. Here, it’s not so much the individual animations (Which are fine), or any lack of impact (The enemies do react, although not always consistently) , but the fact that, beyond placement, and some card abilities (The less of which you use, the better your tactical score, and thus your money at the end of each mission), combat is very much a case of watching animations and timers go by. Turns are, you see, automatic, so enemies will move every X seconds, you’re allowed to move every X seconds. Picking a thing up? Be close enough, click. Destroying an object? Place near enough, wait.

“If I can just… HNGH… Reach under this tree, I can take my turn!”

Objectives, meanwhile, are nearly all some variation of “Collect X [sometimes plural], bring to Y”, “Kill D”, “Destroy Z”, or “Get to P” … Just like those older board games. It does get more tactical, at times, but… Yeah. The interface varies between being reminiscent of a tabletop game in progress (If, you know, you had rich tabletop friends with big-ass tables), and pictures from a tabletop magazine, complete with workmanlike, functional text paragraphs.

So, on the whole, Wartile does exactly what it sets out to do: Recreate a tabletop experience, albeit with some computer unique touches. Oddly, that’s exactly the problem… That, if anything, it does too good a job.

Ah… Fond memories of being told about a campaign’s Visrep rule. Strangely, I wasn’t allowed the twelve heavy guns my character owned…

Which is a hell of a thing to have to say.

The Mad Welshman is a nine ring creature, medium sized, with dual enchanted handaxes. Just so you know.

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Algo-Bot (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Programming within limitations has always been an interesting exercise. Take, for example, a robot. Give it some limited options, such as moving forward, turning, picking something up, putting something down, or hitting a button, and then limit it to a certain number of instructions (With some ability to bring things down to functions, which can be used in place of a smaller set of instructions repeated.) That’s the basis for AlgoBot, a game by Fishing Cactus.

AAAAARGH!

And it’s not a bad basis for a game at all. There’s a certain pleasure in solving the problem as ideally as possible, and another, entirely different kind of pleasure in solving a complex problem at all. Providing you’re teaching well as you go along, you can add complexity, more things to do, more challenge to it all. This, too, Algo Bot does well. Starting with simple commands, it moves onto functions, teaching you that if you want something done well, isolating the most repeated instructions saves time and frustration. Then another function, more instructions, so on. It does so with a good, clear UI, some nice futurist designs for robots and belts and buttons that clearly identifies every element in your mind. So far, so good.

If this were the end of things, having a good learning curve, a nice, clear aesthetic, and an interesting idea, this would make it a damn good game, and another entry into the Hall of Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin. There are, however… Niggles. Little annoyances. For example, instructions cannot be changed while the program is running, even in the step by step mode, so the trickier the puzzle gets, the more you’re having to play the whole thing through, painfully, to identify the problem. That the speed option resets after each playthrough, equally, is a niggle.

Sometimes, thankfully, the simple solution really is the one you’re looking for.

Nonetheless, I enjoy the futurist aesthetic, from the tunes to the clean, expressive robots, and the comedy of errors that is the story. In closing, I only have this to say to my robot PAL: Only a poor workman blames his tools.

The Mad Welshman has deliberately chosen screenshots where he wasn’t actually that close to a solution. Just so you know.

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Tangledeep (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£5.19 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

One of the many things I find interesting about game design is how, individually, elements can be nothing new, but… In combination, the magic happens. Tangledeep is, in many ways, a traditional roguelike: On its intended difficulty, survival involves genuine consideration and thought, knowledge of its rules (The game likes to remind you, on death, that those healing potions you get don’t take a turn to use, for example), and memorisation, to an extent, of the challenges that face you. This level branches into these levels, this boss is at 6F, and so on.

With the Keen Eye perk, a frankly silly amount of information is easily available about your enemy.

However, there’s enough differences and features that, in essence, listing them all would probably fill a review on its own. Crafting food, with a recipe book in your journal. A JRPG style Job system, where you mix and match both the skills and weapon talents of classes however you feel is optimal. Pets, seeds, a mysterious machine, and, somewhat surprisingly, an overarching narrative, set in a world where climbing up the Tangledeep, and attaining knowledge (Sometimes doing good along the way) is the goal, rather than, for example, climbing down the dungeon of Somuchforthat to gain The McOrbison of Clingfilming… Or something like that.

What this means, in practice, is that you always have a good reason to come back to town through the town portal, checking in on what’s going on, that there’s a fair amount to explore, and, thanks to an adjustable difficulty where you don’t necessarily have to die, you can chill the heck out while doing so, exploring the systems and getting the hang of things before maybe graduating to single character permadeath with unlocks, or, traditionally as heck, permadeath permadeath.

It shouldn’t really be said that you don’t disrespect a birdman’s nest, even if they *are* a jerk… But I went and did it.

Or not. Nice thing about games with a fair amount to do, and adjustable difficulty: You don’t have to explore the whole thing to have fun. It helps that, as Roguelikes go, Tangledeep is pretty accessible. Here, clear menus. This is equipment, food inventory, job point stuff, journal. There, a clear map, everything tile based with a key that leaves little doubt as to what everything is. With good music, sound effects, and visuals, all inspired by SNES JRPGs, a variety of classes, unlocks, etc, there’s a lot to recommend it.

Indeed, my main complaint is one that could be levelled at, honestly, a lot of roguelikes overall: Beyond the special areas and boss levels, going through some of the levels just feels a bit humdrum, a case of “Explore as much as possible, break things, go back to town, up some stairs, rinse, repeat.”

As such, overall? Tangledeep’s pretty good for a Roguelike. It’s got charm to it, and a solid, clear design to its UI that helps make it just that important, little bit more friendly. And that makes it a roguelike well worth checking out.

Please don’t ask me to name your own pets. This is part of why…

The Mad Welshman also has a nice nest. Well, as soon as he puts his many many books in order, preferably without loss of life or limb…

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Deep Sky Derelicts (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Balance can be a very difficult thing to achieve. I don’t think that’s always a well understood thing. The more complex a game is, the more likely one of its pieces can fail to interact with its siblings. And although I am certain it will be fixed, it’s interesting to note where Deep Sky Derelicts hasn’t quite got the balance down just right yet.

This combat, which I foolishly walked into, could be a metaphor or something.
But no, it’s me about to be clowned by a superior force.

Before we get into that, however, what the heck is a Deep Sky Derelicts when it’s at home? Well, it’s a procedurally generated, turn based game involving entering ancient hulks, fighting aliens, pirates, and robots, all to find two dreams of humanity: The Mothership on which humanity arrived, previously thought by the game’s spacefaring civilisation to be mythical, and citizenship, for lo, the spacefaring civilisation is a wee bit dystopic. Hand drawn art in a comic book style, some solid music and sound effects, and a mostly clear UI. Good stuff, potentially, and, aesthetically, already shaping up very well.

And mechanically, a fair amount of it is shaping up well, too. Most of the various classes work well, each having specialities of their own, such as the Bruiser’s Heavy Melee (at the cost of not having a ranged weapon, or a second tool), the Leader’s flexibility, and so on, with guns and addons being the main methods of customising your character’s deck of cards for the fights. There’s a certain joy in finding new and effective methods of murderising the opposition while ensuring your health or suit energy doesn’t get too low, because regaining the former is expensive, and losing all the latter (Drained by both exploration and turns of combat) is an instant death state… Similarly, the tutorialising is good, and mostly feels natural.

Even the most basic of attacks look good.

Alas, not all is currently well, and some things feel a little lacklustre. The Bruiser, for example, has the lowest ratio of combat cards to non combat at first, so they are, oddly, a class you have to build up before it really gets going, whereas others, such as the Engineer, can mostly get going straight away. Equally, not all weapons are equal, with the Assault Rifle getting the least use in my runs because… Well, without a high Weapon stat, it rapidly becomes useless against anything with the least amount of armour. At the moment, the ships feel relatively empty, which, in a way, is fitting, but also makes for minutes of… Well, wandering just to find something, and it’s very important to check the level of the ship you’re invading before embarking. There are four ships to start with, and closest does not mean friendliest. Just so you know. Finally, and this is definitely something that is being worked on to my knowledge, the game is not complete, so unless you’re gunning for the main goal as directly as possible, yes, you’re going to run out of missions, and consequently money. Money you need to re-energise your suits and survive.

These points aside, though, Deep Sky Derelicts is shaping up to be pretty fun. Some of the questlines are well written, and give a sense of a universe which has a lot of odd things going on, like God Machines (or machines with delusions of godhood… Take your pick), creative means of getting around the limitations of a space suit (and the disgusting results thereof) , and, of course, the things that populate ships. What makes all the janitor robots so damn murder happy? We may never know. Finally, when a run goes well, it goes very, very well, and I’ve been dissuaded from wanting to murder my entire team by… Well, finding some particularly juicy pieces of loot that make the combat go by even quicker, new things to see in the comic frame presentation of moves, and convinced myself “Okay, you don’t get cut off yet. Your kit’s too good.”

On the one hand, minimalist, and not a whole lot of events over the whole ship. On the other, this is clear as crystal.

So that’s the current state of Deep Sky Derelicts: When it’s good, it’s entertaining and fun, and when it’s bad, it can get sloggy quickly, which, thankfully, is fixable. It’s an interesting take on an idea we’ve seen quite a bit of over the years, with a good aesthetic, and I look forward to seeing where it goes, because, as mentioned, balance problems can be fixed, and the writing of what’s in there so far is giving me confidence that, by release, I’ll be more positive about the game.

The Mad Welshman would give you more today, but he needs to get a suit refill. Stupid oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere…

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Mercenary Kings Reloaded (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, I’ll freely admit, reviewing can get a little odd. But when given the opportunity to compare a game’s experience both before and after a major free update, it’s an interesting window into game updates that would normally be reserved for Early Access releases.

That doesn’t, unfortunately, mean I particularly get along with Mercenary Kings, even after its Reloaded update. But in some areas, I can definitely see improvement, and I see this as a good thing, overall. Let’s get into it.

Big, lumbering… Does a hell of a lot of damage if it hits you though!

Mercenary Kings is a 2D platforming shooter with quite a few elements that are inspired by the gameplay of Monster Hunter and its ilk. Several repeatable missions in areas that expand as you get further toward the end of each chapter, with random drops from a set pool that depends on the enemy or, in the cases of boxes, on the mission itself. Said drops, along with the money reward, goes into unlocking or buying kit, skills, and usable items, which make your pretty damage and defense numbers go up, allowing you to fight bigger and nastier things… With the caveat that really big numbers tend to have a tradeoff, like weapons being heavy enough that you can’t run or jump nearly as well, for example. Mostly, getting through is a combination of knowing enemy patterns, good item usage, and picking your fights.

Thing is, flow becomes very important in such a game, and, before the Reloaded update, the early game flow was painful, at best. Certain enemies (Shield Joes, Pyros, and Drillerillas, for example) felt more like living roadblocks than an organic part of the experience, hard to avoid even with the lightest of equipment, and equally annoying to kill without damage, and, beyond the weapons, early game progress was slow.

Right is, in this case, the safer choice. This drill kills bullets.

Aesthetically, the game was (and is) strong, with the one notable exception being Empress (the original woman character) being… Well, an Escher Girl in her title appearance. Otherwise, the spritework’s good and clear, and the music is reminiscent of quite a few nostalgic treats, mostly platformers and shooters (The camp music, for some reason, reminds me of Blake Stone, an old Apogee published first person shooter. Maybe it’s the sound font.)

Has the Reloaded update improved this? Somewhat. The aforementioned roadblock enemies still feel like roadblocks, and are still somewhat annoying, but the weapon updates and balancing has definitely improved things, even if the early game flow remains a little slow and grindy. The two new characters are a welcome addition, as is objectives clearly being shown on the map (Something I don’t recall before Reloaded. Happy to be corrected if it was the case previously, and I just didn’t see it.) The bosses are mostly pretty interesting, even if I quickly saw the base enemies as a chore, rather than a challenge, or source of enjoyment, and seeing various new knives and guns is always a pleasure to my monster huntin’ mind.

*Sinks to his knees, fists clenched to the sky* GATHERING MISSSSIOOOONNSSSS!!!

As a platformer shooter, Mercenary Kings Reloaded feels a little slow (unless you have the sprinter upgrade), a little grindy at first, but it has taken steps to make its early game a little more friendly, and this is one of the few times where I will say “It Gets Better.” It’s no Contra, no quick, twitchy game this (Although some bosses do require a good handle on movement and dodging), and 4 player multiplayer definitely helps when you have friends to play with… But, as mentioned, despite its influences, it’s sadly not my cup of tea. Regardless of my opinion, though, I will state: The Reloaded update is an improvement. Respect for that.

The Mad Welshman killed 23 CLAW soldiers to make this review. It would only have been 7, but fabric drops were low on the mission he was on.

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